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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira on inequality, Demography, Progressives and the Dems

TDS founding editor Ruy Teixeira has two posts at ThinkProgress which Democratic political strategists will find instructive and their Republican counterparts will find worrisome. From Teixeira’s “The Hidden Demographic Shifts That Are Sinking The Republican Party“:

First, look at where Republicans and Democrats tend to live. David Jarman took a detailed look recently, with great charts and interactive maps, at the relative growth in Democratic and Republican votes in the nation’s 3,144 counties between 1988 and 2012. For each county, Jarman calculates the net change in Democratic votes (increase in Democratic votes minus increase in Republican votes) over that time period.
The results are fascinating for how much and where growth is benefiting Democrats and Republicans. Start with the Democrats. The 25 top counties for net Democratic vote gain include many of the most populous counties in the country. They include Los Angeles at the top, eight of the ten most populous (LA, plus Cook [Chicago], San Diego and Orange [CA], Dallas, Kings [Brooklyn], Queens and Miami-Dade) and 15 of the top 25 most populous. The rest, without exception, are large counties that include a major city or are urbanized inner suburbs of a major city. The magnitude of Democratic gains in the top 25 ranges from 1.2 million in LA down to around 140,000.
The top gainers for the GOP, in contrast, tend to be in much smaller counties on the periphery of metropolitan areas (“exurbs”). The top 25 GOP gainers include no county in the US top 25 in population and include only one in the top 50. And the magnitude of GOP gains in the top 25 is much smaller than those enjoyed by the Democrats. Indeed, the largest GOP net gain of all–90,000 in Provo county, Utah-is not only smaller than the 25th ranked gain for the Democrats (140,000) but also smaller than Democratic gains all the way down to the 61st ranked Democratic gainer county.
Democratic strength in dense areas is clearly one reason for the Democrats’ increasing electoral potency, particularly in Presidential elections. Conversely, the concentration of GOP gains in more lightly-populated areas limits their strength now and in the future.

Teixeira then takes a look at educational attainment trends by generation as revealed in a recent Pew Research Center report, and explains that millennial college graduates are doing exceptionally-well in terms of earnings and employment:

The report notes that 34 percent of Millennial generation 25-32 year olds have a four year college degree, compared to 25 percent among Gen Xers at the same age, 24 percent among both late and early Boomers and just 13 percent among those from the Silent generation. Millennials are also receiving the highest relative values from their degrees. A Millennial college graduate has median earnings of $45,500, compared to just $28,000 for a Millennial high school graduate. Back in 1965, the gap was much narrower: a Silent Generation college graduate earned $38,800 (2012 dollars) while a high school graduate earned $31,400.
Millennial college graduates also do very well in terms of unemployment (just 3.8 percent vs. 8.1 percent among those with some college and 12.2 percent among high school graduates) and poverty incidence (5.8 percent vs. 14.7 percent among those with some college and 21.8 percent among high school grads). These data should put to rest any notion that it is somehow not worth it for Millennials to invest in a college education.
That is certainly how Millennial college grads see the situation. In the accompanying public opinion survey, 88 percent said that, considering what they and their family paid for their education, their degree has already paid off (62 percent) or would pay off in the future (26 percent). In addition, 86 percent of employed Millennial college grads describe their current job as a career or career-track job, compared to 73 percent of those with some college and only 57 percent of high school grads.

The improving education and earnings attainment of the Millennial generation is “a powerful factor moving us toward a more open and tolerant society (see this report from CAP),” explains Teixeira. “It also should reduce Democratic deficits among white voters since white college graduates are considerably less hostile to Democrats than white noncollege voters.”
The data strongly suggests that “making a college education attainable and affordable for a much larger segment of the population should be a high priority for progressives,” says Teixeira. “And since the GOP’s commitment to enhancing economic mobility, as Sean McElwee has pointed out, is full-throated and unequivocal — except when it involves spending money — this is an issue where Democrats can draw a particularly sharp contrast between themselves and the GOP.”
But it’s not only the Millennials who are giving democrats an edge going forward. Teixeira quotes from a new Gallup report:

Baby boomers constitute 32% of the U.S. adult population and, by Gallup’s estimate, 36% of the electorate in 2012, eclipsing all other generational groups. Baby boomers have dominated U.S. politics on the basis of their sheer numbers since the late 1970s, when most of the group had reached voting age….If the party preferences of each generational group were to hold steady in the coming years as the Democratic-leaning baby boomers gradually replace the more Republican Silent and Greatest generations, the country as a whole would likely become more Democratic.

“Thus, over time, high-turnout seniors, currently the most conservative part of the electorate by age, will be liberalized as Baby Boomers age,” explains Teixeira. “Moreover, the most liberal part of the generation — those born up through 1955 and termed “early Boomers” — is frontloaded, so the political impact on the senior population could be fairly rapid.” In sum, adds Teixeira, “the changing location, education levels, and age of the electorate suggest why the Republicans’ long-term disadvantages aren’t so bad as most people think. They’re worse.”
In addition to the demographic advantages benefitting Democrats, Teixeira sees a more short-term game-changing opportunity for Dems in recent public opinion, as explained in his ThinkProgress post “Why Democrats Should Run On Inequality In 2014“:

There’s been some debate recently about how progressives should talk about inequality: opportunity and mobility or redistribution and fairness? I personally lean toward the opportunity and mobility approach, a position I outline here.
But this disagreement over how to talk about inequality here shouldn’t obscure the fact that, when it comes to the 2014 elections, there’s broad agreement among progressives that Democrats who share their values should talk about it. In fact, the data are unequivocal: if they want to win, they should talk about it a lot.

Teixeira notes that Democrats have been perhaps over-sensitive to charges of “class warfare” when they raise the topic of inequality, while Republicans, aware that polls show increasing concern about inequality, are doing their best to muddle the issue. Further,

Take a recent CNN poll that asked people whether “the government should work to substantially reduce the income gap between the rich and poor.” Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of liberals of liberals agreed. But so did 71 percent of moderates, suggesting candidates who run on inequality have opportunities to make gains in the center.
However, the same data show that Republicans like Ryan and Lee aren’t exactly in a good position to capitalize on this opportunity. 53 percent of conservatives disagreed with the notion of government working to solve the income gap, suggesting Republicans will only have limited room to attack inequality without alienating their base. Indeed, the real political opportunity created by independent disgust with inequality is for Democrats to use it as a wedge issue to pry centrist voters away from Republican candidates.
More data in the CNN poll support this interpretation. 91 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents thought the government should work hard to reduce the income gap. 57 percent of Republican identifiers thought the government should not work at all on reducing the income gap.
Now, most independents are not actually independent: the vast majority of independents vote like either Republicans or Democrats. But based on what we know about the typical distribution of pure independents versus closet partisans and their respective views, we can estimate pure independents’ support for government action to reduce inequality from the CNN data. The figure comes, by my calculations, to around 66 percent.

“The electorate’s true centrists — the pure independents whom one might legitimately call swing voters — are overwhelmingly supportive of government action to reduce the gap between rich and poor in today’s America,” concludes Teixeira. “However progressives choose to talk about inequality, they should, above all, keep talking. Centrist voters will be listening.”
Teixeira’s analysis shows quite clearly that Republicans have a lot to worry about in terms of demographic transformation going forward. And if Democrats heed his findings about public attitudes towards growing inequality and amplify their proposals to address it, the 2014 elections should give the GOP increasing concern in the months ahead as well.

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